Sri Lanka's Cabinet has authorised flag carrier SriLankan Airlines (UL, Colombo Int'l) to lease a freighter of unspecified type to capitalise on the booming demand for cargo uplift.

During its meeting on March 15, 2021, the government acknowledged that SriLankan Airlines had focused primarily on the passenger market before the COVID-19 pandemic. It underlined, however, that as the market has changed dramatically over the last year, the airline would need to be reorganised to cater more to the cargo market.

The authorisation did not go into any detail regarding the aircraft type, timeline, or procedures. It only mandated the carrier to follow an "international competitive procurement methodology".

Chief Executive Vipula Gunatilleka told ch-aviation earlier this year that the carrier would target Airbus freighters but also did not provide any further details. SriLankan will launch a formal tender shortly, ch-aviation understands.

The ch-aviation fleets advanced module shows that SriLankan Airlines currently operates one A330-200 as a makeshift freighter but does not have any dedicated freighter aircraft. Its fleet comprises five A320-200s, two A320-200Ns, one A321-200, four A321-200Ns, five A330-200s, and seven A330-300s. Many of the aircraft have been used for cargo-only services using bellyhold capacity with passenger cabins left intact. According to the government, SriLankan Airlines currently serves 26 destinations on a cargo-only basis.

The airline's sole domestic rival, FitsAir (8D, Colombo Int'l), recently added its first A320-200, which it plans to deploy as a makeshift freighter with passenger seats removed. FitsAir also operates an ATR72-200(QC) in a quick-change configuration and used to operate a DC-8-63(F), Sri Lanka's only dedicated freighter jet.